Newest Review: ... Moldovan national anthem (minus clothes) if he loses, he quickly heads for Moldova, with his tennis kit in tow. The actual tennis doesn'... more
Roger Federer has nothing to fear, but do the Moldovans?
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis - Tony Hawks
Member Name: larsbaby
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis - Tony Hawks
Advantages: Witty writing, interesting to find out more about Moldova
Disadvantages: Over the top at times
Having read all of Danny Wallace's books and been amused if slightly appalled at his childish challenges, I was recommended the works of Tony Hawks by Ms Larsbaby. It seems that Mr Hawks is also famed for his silly challenges and could be seen as something of an inspiration for people like Wallace & Dave Gorman who also like to indulge their egos in ostensibly pointless bets. Moldova was a part of the Soviet Union and has been an independent country since 1992. It's a landlocked country in Eastern Europe located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. With little previous experience to go on I was keen to find out more about the country and the author.
ROLL OVER MOLDOVA
I was always intrigued by the title of this book, having no idea at all what it was about until I read it. It turns out that our protagonist ends up trying to play tennis (one at a time of course) with the entire Moldovan football team that played England in a qualifier game at Wembley. This comes as a result of a drunken bet from a friend of his, the comedian Arthur Smith, formed whilst watching England hand out a routine thrashing in the game over a few pints of lager. Tony was a quite handy junior tennis player, and he reasoned that being good at football might not be an advantage when it came to tennis without specific tennis coaching. His friend reasoned that athletes are athletes and their skills should be fully transferable. Tony travelled to Moldova to find out fuelled by the challenge from Arthur.
MOLDOVA FOR BEGINNERS
Having conducted extensive research into the country by introducing himself to a Beatles tribute band with a Moldovan member he somehow managed to track down, Tony sets out to Moldova with some names to contact when he arrives. Basing himself in a media centre, where he causes great bemusement all round with his odd task in hand, he enlists the help of a local translator who shares much of his journey, but little of his enthusiasm. You do wonder if Tony is better off without him at times, even if he can't speak much of the native Romanian (though makes a game attempt to learn some). It seems that nothing is simple in Moldova, and meeting the players turns out to be quite a task. At one stage it involves travelling into an almost lawless region run by the Russian speaking populace, where Tony is the guest of a very shady club president, who has his own ideas about how Tony can help his business ...
Tony does manage to blag his way into the realms of the national team and enjoys quite a rapport with some of the backroom staff, which helps his somewhat at times. But it doesn't end in Moldova, as not all the players are based at home (or if they are, available there) so our story also takes us to Northern Ireland and Israel; something of a contrast to Moldova in many ways.
It's when Tony stays with a Moldovan family in the capital of Chisinau, found via his contacts, that for me provides the heart-warming aspect of the book. You get to know and love the 4 members of the family; Grigore, a hard working doctor at the city's state hospital, so badly paid that his income is supplemented by gifts from his patients such as, memorably, an illegally caught fish, delivered in the dead of night. His hospitable wife and fellow doctor Dina; their 2 children, Adrian, a teenage boy and Elena, a younger girl. The intelligent and keen Elena acts as a conduit between Tony and her non-English speaking parents and this young lady comes across as particularly pleasant and charming. Adrian acts as the typical taciturn, moody teenager at first. As time goes on however, you can feel the bond between the odd Englishman and the entire family, and you are sad to say goodbye to them by the end. You feel that they've all learnt something from each other, enriched with cross culture pollination, which in itself is result enough from the book for me, notwithstanding the bet. Although by the end even they are seduced by it and willing Tony on to win it.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS?
It wouldn't be spoiling the plot too much to say that he does manage to play tennis with at least some of the players; I won't tell you if he managed to play them all, though. The results of the matches are quite interesting and it would be fair to say that Tony is right to an extent that sporting skills aren't transferable without the requisite coaching. What does come out in his encounters with the footballers is a picture of helpful, friendly and down to earth chaps, far removed from the primadonna WAGS circus we have come to know and loathe in the Premier League.
This is a very funny book which, quite by accident I should imagine, gives you a fascinating insight in the psyche, culture and everyday lives of the Moldovans. Aside from the many laughs that the various scrapes Tony gets himself into provides, such as trying to hike across the country for a day trip via interconnecting buses he doesn't even know how to find, it's interesting to see what state this country was in at the time of writing (the late 1990s). It would seem that the fall of communism didn't do them any favours; with no street lighting and random exposed manholes due to theft of the covers made of valuable metal, you couldn't even walk around safely at night. But the spirit of the people shines through and you are left with a good impression of their stoic existence in the post cold war transition period. If you like Danny Wallace or Dave Gorman I would recommend this book to study the pioneer of silly bet authors. The self depreciatory style is a well worn path now by those guys and you can't help but like someone so prepared to have a laugh at his own expense, though, like Wallace, you do suspect some of the more outlandish tales have an element of exaggeration to them. The question now is who won the bet? The forfeit for the loser was to sing the Moldovan national anthem naked on Balham high street so the stakes are high!
Summary: Learn more about Moldova!
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